The demand for digital education has grown by 400% during 2020. The global learning management systems market is projected to grow to $44.49 billion by 2028 and is the fastest-growing sector in the education industry. So, if you’re considering delving into learning management system development—it’s just time.
But how to build a learning management system (LMS) with custom functionality?
We believe the best formula combines a streamlined process and a knowledgeable team. Among our recent projects in e-learning marketplaces development, there is Evrlearn. Syndicode has developed a commercial marketplace from scratch and created an instant search option powered by Elasticsearch technology, further enhanced with machine learning.
This step-by-step guide uses all our experience to help you build your own LMS from scratch. First, we’ll present you with the basics of learning management system development. Then, we’ll outline the cost of LMS development and the factors affecting it.
Sound good? Let’s dive right in.
How to develop an LMS platform: Syndicode experience
The standard description of an LMS is a software or SaaS platform allowing users to plan, create and access educational materials as they undergo a specific learning process. In other words, it is a website where students can access training materials and interact with tutors and other learners through messages, blogs, forums, etc. This is similar to distance learning and aims to make education more flexible.
Users of a learning management system are given different types of access. Each log-in type offers a certain limited functionality. Thus, student log-in allows reviewing courses and discussing the material with tutors and peers; teacher log-in enables task assigning, course creation, and student grading; admin log-in allows adding content and managing users.
Companies choose custom learning management system development to preserve internal knowledge and track the effectiveness of employee training. Trade societies use it for compliance and specialty training. Entrepreneurs and self-learners can utilize a learning management system to get crash courses in the fields of their interest.
Types of learning management systems
Before we jump into discussing how to build a custom learning management system, let’s look into the main learning management systems types:
A free, open-source learning management system can be customized to any requirements. It also means you need a skilled technician for custom learning management system development out of free code. Reliable support may not be present, either.
Commercial learning management system software costs money and can only be customized by an owning company. For this reason, you, as a client, might lack some desired features. On the other hand, you get solid and continuous support.
An installed or hosted LMS works on your premises and uses your own servers to store data. Therefore, it is highly secure and can be infinitely customized. However, you need an in-house server rack for installed LMS development and maintenance.
The software-as-a-service learning management system has hosting on the cloud and is maintained by the vendor. As a client, you pay a subscription fee and fully focus on training. There is little opportunity for customization, though. And this might be the reason to build your own LMS system.
Learning management system development can involve integration with third-party apps. These can include social networks, calendars, talent management systems for HR functions support, email, and more.
Some LMS solutions can limit their functionality to the core features. The goal of these LMS types is merely to provide users with a single source of important information.
Learning management system development from scratch
Now that we understand what an LMS is and have defined its basic types, we can start discovering how to build a custom learning management system. By following our step-by-step plan, you can avoid making widespread mistakes and create an LMS from scratch.
Step 1. Research the idea and plan the LMS development
In the US alone, about 20% of business ideas prove themselves unviable within the first year. To avoid unprofitable investments before creating a learning management system, you need to validate your idea.
First, define the purpose of learning management system development. It can be customer training, employee onboarding, retention, salespeople preparation, general-purpose education, etc.
Next, you should articulate the main problems your LMS is to solve. These may include: reducing training costs, cutting employee onboarding time, freeing up time, measuring learning impact, and others.
You should also specify the available budget for the LMS building. We will discuss LMS development costs and give rough estimates below.
Furthermore, you should determine the target audience for your LMS project and decide on the most appropriate LMS type.
Finally, think about your LMS monetization model–freemium or paid.
Discovery phase of an LMS development project
To have a clear idea of how to build a LMS to look and function as requested, detailed planning is necessary. At Syndicode, we start the learning management system development with a discovery session. It helps us understand the market need and set the wireframes for development. The discovery phase involves the following:
- Collecting information. A project manager and business analyst analyze your business goals, needs, and vision. Then, they conduct market analysis to choose the most profitable niche and develop a learning management system strategy.
- Competitor research is an important part of the discovery phase as it allows us to understand what practices can be used as a base for development. Not reinventing the wheel speeds up the development process and lowers the LMS cost.
- Scope of work is determined based on your business model and requirements. We decide on the methodology and timeline.
- User stories list tasks you want the future LMS to perform. Developers use them to make technical specifications and the project plan.
- Architecture design. Your idea is shaped into a list of components and the principles of their interaction. You get a presentation of the future LMS and can prove the concept while developers identify the possible tech blockers.
After the discovery stage, you should understand what the learning management system development process will comprise and have a rough estimate of the time and costs. Next, we proceed to create a detailed project timeline and then build a prototype.
Step 2. Define the core features for learning management system development
How to create an LMS functionality plan. Well, the complete set of LMS features is up to your potential client’s needs.
Still, there are must-have features for creating a learning management system. Without them, an LMS won’t provide a good learning experience:
|To ensure security, editors should be able to customize user access to certain information and system functions.|
|User management||For the continuous learning process, tutors should have the possibility to group students, assign assignments to individuals and groups, send private messages, reminders, and such.|
|Data reports||An LMS should enable students to track their performance and evaluate their progress. Also, data like time spent on an assignment and overall results in a specific topic can give insights into course improvement.|
|Knowledge assessment||Tools for various assessment creation, like tests and quizzes, allow for estimating comprehension and retention.|
|Notifications||Through notifications and reminders, users can stay informed about new materials, deadlines, test results, feedback, etc.|
|Centralized materials for learning||An LMS should store learning materials in a convenient and user-friendly way. Centralized and organized information promotes learning consistency and increases engagement.|
|Course management||Along with a text editor, this feature allows users to create courses and manage the existing ones.|
Additional features to consider in learning management system development:
The following features are good-to-have in most learning management systems for business. Consider them if you’re going to build your own LMS:
|Personalized UX||Receiving relevant content based on a learner’s history and role, one feels more invested in learning. Also, with this feature, you ensure your learners have all the essential skills.|
|Offline learning tracker||To track offline learning activities, an LMS can allow one to download content and manually edit one’s assessment checklists.|
Example: iSpring Learn
|Compliance checker||For businesses that have to keep compliant with internal policies or governmental regulations, an LMS can ensure the right people are trained and assessed properly.|
|Smart scheduling||For one-to-one learning sessions, a smart scheduling tool can offer the most comfortable dates and times for both parties.|
|Gamification||Earning points and competing with other learners boost engagement and knowledge retention.|
|Integrations||If you want to develop a learning management system able to integrate with other software, you’ll need this feature. LMS can integrate with CRM, email, payment systems, and more. It removes the manual processes and simplifies training.|
Example: Blackboard Learn
|White labeling||In systems intended for general use, you can allow users to add their logos and change dashboard colors to fit their branding.|
Step 3. Choose the right tech stack
The proper technology stack is critical for creating a learning management system that is stable, smooth-running, and secure. At Syndicode, we choose a custom tech stack for LMS depending on its type and the required functionality.
A learning management system development involves the following technologies:
That’s where the LMS data is stored and processed. This learning management system software layer is invisible to the client, yet it is the backbone of the learning management system’s operation.
The popular frameworks for building an LMS backend are Django, Rails, Node.js, and some others. At Syndicode, we rely on Ruby on Rails for custom learning management system development from scratch. It has many libraries that allow for extra flexibility and help to write code faster. It also comes with strong safety measures and is suitable for most industries.
Frontend refers to everything a user can see and interact with in a product. To create an LMS platform interface, we use Vue.js, or React.js. Depending on your requirements, we choose the technology that will give the desired appearances along with quick loading and high responsiveness.
Learning management systems are connected to relational databases such as PostgreSQL or MySQL. They are compliant, reliable, and fast. We use PostgreSQL as the most popular solution due to the huge number of functions.
For cloud-based learning management system development, we find Amazon Web Services to be the perfect blend of security, productivity, and pricing. Alternatively, DigitalOcean is a fast and reliable hosting service.
Below is an infographic briefly describing the commonly used technology for different stages of developing an LMS:
As seen from the infographic, to create an LMS from scratch, you’ll need many tools and programming languages. Our skilled technicians select the technology that can best fulfill your unique requirements.
Step 4. Create a learning management system specification and UI/UX design
Now that you understand the purpose of learning management system development and have balanced out the features list, proceed to make a specification. This is a document that extensively describes the goals and requirements for an LMS, the idea, features, and technologies for development.
If you have ever wondered how to create LMS specifications, you should hold a discovery session with our team. Syndicode project managers have strong technical and communication skills, as well as expertise to formulate clear questions and derive all the essential information from the client. Also, at this step, the schematic representation of the future LMS is created and costs are estimated.
After all the requirements are set and recorded on paper, designers visualize the future LMS. For complex architectures, they first create LMS mockups and wireframes. If everything looks good, they make UI and transfer them to developers to turn into a functional product.
Step 5. Get a qualified LMS development team
A hand-picked in-house development team has some strong benefits like full control and direct communication. These factors are the more crucial for learning management system development, the bigger the project and the longer the development process.
Yet, assembling an in-house development team takes substantial time for interviewing and training. It is also associated with higher costs compared to outsourcing since employing people is a long-term investment intended for fulfilling a constant flow of tasks.
How to create an LMS if you don’t have a team under your roof. Well, provided the LMS development is a one-time project, outsourcing is a reasonable option. Thus, you reduce costs since you only pay for the work done and do not bear any expenses related to employee maintenance. Finding the right tech partner to outsource from involves several things to consider. Factors like communication issues, lack of planning, and poor quality control can fail a software project. At Syndicode, we prevent those due to honed processes, clear communication, pre-development business analysis, and repeated testing. You can learn how to mitigate risks associated with outsourcing in this guide.
Benefits of outsourcing for LMS development
Some key advantages to outsourcing your learning management system development are:
- Easy team scaling
Depending on the task complexity and urgency, you can scale your LMS developers’ team up and down without any expenses in hiring or firing.
- Saving costs and time
Unlike with an in-house team, working with an outsource software development company saves you from worrying about the workspace and equipment or staff training.
You can also check the potential tech partner’s expertise in creating similar software to the LMS you want. This ensures a faster development process and reduced expenses.
- Established development process
Experienced development teams use tested practices and have established routines and processes. Moreover, the team members know each other well and have worked on dozens of projects together. Experience and the absence of communication roadblocks make the development faster and cheaper.
- Reduced risks
Your tech partner funds the learning management system development process while you, as a client, pay for the received value. This makes the outsourced company equally interested in timely and effective work.
Step 6. Build the first version of your learning management system
Now, as we’ve done all the preparations, the actual process of learning management system development starts. But how to build a learning management system with complex functionality and short time-to-market?
In the case of a large project, in which full development would take many months, it is reasonable to adopt an iterative approach to releasing. The Syndicode team evaluates the full list of the LMS functions discussed during the discovery stage. Then, the most essential features are chosen, confirmed with you, and implemented into the first version of the LMS.
Afterward, the second-importance functions are added to the updated version, and so on. This way, you get a functional product in a short time. You can start getting profit from your LMS soon after the start of the development process, no matter how big the project.
If you want to test how the market responds to the new learning management system, we can start with a minimum viable product (MVP). It’s worth mentioning that an MVP cannot be tested on a wide audience. This is a means of understanding whether the chosen functionality meets the demand and if customers will pay for it.
Step 7. Create the final product
For each new release, just like with the entire learning management system development process, we follow an established workflow. First, there is a kick-off session. Developers get familiar with specifications and a design to create an LMS feature. Then discussions are held to determine the most appropriate solutions and prioritize tasks.
We go back to user stories, decide how to best integrate the new feature into the LMS architecture, and determine how it will be tested. The result of the discussions is presented to you for approval.
For both full LMS development and separate features building, we follow the project timeline. It specifies what exactly should be done and who will work on each task. Milestones and demonstrations are also indicated there.
To ensure maximal efficiency, we break the work into sprints. Each sprint involves planning, task execution, evaluation, and analysis. To keep track of the work done and issues faced, we hold daily and weekly meetings.
As a client, you join our team for a demo session at the end of a sprint. Thus, we ensure that the development is on the right track and there will be no need for major fixes at the release.
To ensure the proper performance of the newly built learning management system, we do a series of manual and automated tests. The same process goes for each new version of the LMS.
Step 8. LMS rollout and maintenance
As soon as the testing proves every feature works as requested by the client, the code is deployed. To prevent delays, we follow the systems development life cycle (SDLC) method. Also, before the big day, the Syndicode team prepares a detailed description of the LMS features and how to operate them.
As the learning management system development is over and the LMS already running, we offer corrective and perfective maintenance services. As you monitor the LMS performance and collect user feedback, you can request fixes and/or changes.
Cost of learning management system development
It’s impossible to name an exact custom learning management system cost since it depends on many factors. But to give you some reference, let’s say an MVP development for an average web-based LMS takes around four months. The average contractor’s rate for Ukraine is between $30-60 per hour. Taking a standard team with a business analyst, project manager, team lead, two or three developers, a designer, and a QA, you can expect to get a minimum viable product for LMS for about $80K-120K.
For comparison, developers from Western Europe charge around $60-80 per hour while US contractors’ price tag is $80-200 per hour. So, the MVP price range will grow correspondingly.
In India, the average software developer charges $20-40 per hour of work. However, miscommunication is a big concern as India is less-exposed to English-speaking countries. Also, the substantial time difference (India’s time zone is GMT +5:30) makes remote cooperation difficult.
Average estimated cost of LMS Development
|Country||Eastern Europe||Western Europe||USA||India|
|MVP (one platform)||$80K||$160K||$200K||$55K|
|Full product (basic functionality for one platform)||$150K||$300K||$400K||$100K|
What can affect the cost of developing an LMS?
Aside from the actual coding, developing a learning management system can involve additional items. They all influence the final cost of development:
- Hosting. To be available for users, an LMS should be published on a hosting site. Fees vary from $4.50 to $200 and more per month. Depending on the quantity of stored media content, you may also need a bigger repository that costs extra;
- Third-party services integration. If you want to connect your LMS to Amazon, Grammarly, or other services, it may cost extra;
- Tight timeframes. An extended team might be needed to complete the project within the desired timeline, which drags on an increase in wages;
- Developers’ expertise. The more intricate the project, the more a qualified team is needed. And the more they charge for their work;
- Product complexity. The number of features affects the complexity of the LMS logic which impacts implementation time and subsequently price;
- Development methodology. A traditional waterfall approach entails a single person deciding on tools, processes, and price. When your tech partner uses Agile methodology, you collaborate with the entire team, which may leave more space for negotiation.
Hopefully, now you know how to create your own learning management system and what resources to stock up. Custom learning management system development provides you with a solution that does just what you want it to. You won’t have to fit your learning needs into a standard framework. Outsourcing lowers the risks you might face when developing a custom LMS. The flexibility it offers lets you get a high-quality product despite limited resources. What’s more, the Syndicode approach ensures you keep close tabs on the development process and can always intervene with suggestions.
Briefly, launching a learning management system takes five steps. First, plan your content. To ensure your training content is valuable, analyze the learners’ needs. Then, review your existing content to see if it needs to be updated or improved. Find the balance between enough content to make people interested and a realistic amount your team can quickly produce. Second, create an introduction to the LMS. Spread the word about your new tool and set expectations. Be creative in this to recruit as many users as possible. Third, build an LMS support team. The early days of an LMS will likely involve onboarding and associated support requests. Decide who will provide technical and learning support and provide contact channels. Forth, use a soft launch. Before going fully live, consider testing your new LMS on a small group of people. This way, you’ll discover all sorts of small things that would otherwise go unnoticed–and fix them. And lastly, plan user training. Every new learning management system software has some kind of a learning curve. Schedule a few meetings to help people to get started. That will eliminate barriers and improve engagement.
There are quite a few benefits to using a learning management system. First, an LMS organizes all informational content in a single location, making it easy to find. Next, all users can access files in the LMS anytime. Thus they can learn anytime they find convenient, without having to wait for the next training session. Moreover, an LMS tracks users’ performance and progress. Thus, as an employer, you can be sure that all employees are meeting their training milestones. Also, you can spot the areas in need of improvement, for example, when many users are struggling with a particular course. Additionally, you can offer supplemental courses to improve one’s performance based on their learning achievements. Another benefit is that an LMS reduces learning time since the material is delivered in an organized and direct manner. Interactive items like quizzes further stimulate knowledge retention. Finally, an LMS keeps organizations compliant. Making updates to compliance documents in an LMS sends notifications to users. Thus, they never miss important training.
Learning management system development times vary depending on the functionality, architecture complexity, and development team’s location. Generally, a simple LMS with basic features will take around four to six months to develop. This includes the discovery session, business analysis, design, building functionalities, and testing.
Syndicode is a full-cycle, custom LMS development company. Since 2014, we have completed dozens of development projects. In total, our clients have attracted over $400M in investments. All our software proved profitable for our clients and earned us 100% positive reviews on Clutch. Thanks to us, our clients meet their obligations made to investors, discover new growth opportunities, improve performance, save up to 60% of budget compared to UK and US prices, and much more. Also, our software has a short payback period, in some cases up to one year. We have established tested routines to hold effective discovery sessions. That means we will quickly get to the heart of your problem and come up with a technically smart solution to build a custom learning management system. We emphasize transparency and collaboration. As a client, you keep close tabs on the web development process and step in with timely suggestions or changes. Due to this approach, you can expect us to build your own LMS quickly and minimize the need for post-production fixes.